Euro 2012 Roundup: Group D

We finish our Euro 2012 roundup by examining Group D, where of course, England will be looking to fight their way through. The French will fancy their chances of topping this one, but it will be difficult to decide between England and Sweden, while co-hosts Ukraine will be looking to make an impact on home turf.

FRANCE

Coach: Laurent Blanc
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Star Man: Karim Benzema
One to Watch: Yohan Cabaye
Fifa Ranking: 16
Previous Tournament History: Winners (1984, 2000)
Odds: 10/1
If they were a film: Black Swan – Some moments haven’t been pretty and there were some dark times, but you get the feeling this could be a potential classic. The cast are artistic and creative and they are ready to cause a major surprise.
Qualifying Roundup: The French started badly with a number of players suspended after the World Cup farce, losing 1-0 to Belarus, but they went the rest of the campaign unbeaten after that. Although it wasn’t particularly easy, they drew another three games as well, they finished a point above Bosnia to win the group and qualify automatically.
Tournament Analysis: Think back two years ago. France were in turmoil after the World Cup and the squad mutiny, so for Laurent Blanc to have turned things around is a good achievement. Optimism is growing in the country as well. The idea that the French could do well this year is gathering pace, they have been in good form recently and Blanc has put together a squad that is efficient rather than spectacular. Defensively, there are some decent options, Rami and Mexes have formed a good partnership while Captain Hugo Lloris is one of the best in the world between the sticks. A lot relies on Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema up front though, but he had a fine season in La Liga. They need Frank Ribery to recapture his best form, while in Yann M’Vila, they have finally found someone to replace Claude Makelele. Newcastle’s pair of Cabaye and Ben Arfa may have forced themselves into starting XI contention and France will relish the prospect of what could be a rather easy group for them. Expect to see Les Blues in the latter stages of the competition.

ENGLAND

Coach: Roy Hodgson
Captain: Steven Gerrard
Star Man: Wayne Rooney
One to Watch: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Fifa Ranking: 7
Previous Tournament History: Semi Finals (1968, 1996)
Odds: 14/1
If they were a film: James Bond Series – We build them up to ridiculous levels and so much discussion is held before it begins debating its qualities. Apart from the odd classic though, it’s an inevitable disappointment, not living up to the hype. Oh, and there’s often a shootout thrown in there somewhere.
Qualifying Roundup: England qualified with ease in the end, but they more stuttered through a group that looked fairly straightforward to begin with. They destroyed Bulgaria home and away and produced a cracking performance in Switzerland, but two draws with Montenegro highlighted their lack of quality at the highest level. Just getting here was pleasing after the 2008 debacle though.
Tournament Analysis: The knives are being sharpened, the headlines prepared and the excuses created as the eve of the tournament approaches. England and major competitions don’t often go well. The Three Lions are built up to proportions beyond belief then dismantled after the inevitable early exit. This time around, everything is rather more low-key. It’s as if everyone has accepted England simply aren’t good enough this time round. The debacle over captain and coach hasn’t helped matters and Roy Hodgson now faces a tough task getting his men ready over yet another off-field issue involving Rio Ferdinand. The task they face is tricky rather than difficult; indeed England would expect to beat Sweden and Ukraine. The French are another matter though and finishing runners up in the group would lead to a potential clash with Spain. The absence of Wayne Rooney is obviously a huge blow and either Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll will replace him. Gerrard obviously still offers a world class option in midfield, while Parker is an able lieutenant in the centre as well, but injuries have robbed England of some key players. Hodgson seems to have installed a defensive, counter attacking mentality which could work if England’s back four hold strong. One would hope they can battle through the group stage. Where, of course, the dreaded penalty shootout awaits.

SWEDEN

Coach: Erik Hamren
Captain: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Star Man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
One to Watch: Rasmus Elm
Fifa Ranking: 17
Previous Tournament History: Semi Finals (1992)
Odds: 66/1
If they were a film: American Reunion – You known exactly what you’re going to get, the plot is always the same and so are the characters. This shouldn’t put you off though, it often delivers, even if not quite the same standards as those around them.
Qualifying Roundup: A rather challenging group saw Sweden lose just the two games, away in Hungary and to the Netherlands. They won the other eight though and needed a victory over the undefeated Dutch to secure their place at the tournament as the best runners up. They duly sealed a 3-2 victory, thus avoiding the playoffs, making it job well done.
Tournament Analysis: Sweden are a regular fixture at international tournaments and whatever the manager, they always set up in the same way. Hard working and well organised, they will provide a tough test to whoever faces them in the pool. They do lack a certain amount of star quality however, but one man who is genuinely world class is skipper Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The forward can be brilliant on his day, but so often he just fails to show up. Sweden desperately need their talisman to be on top form this summer. Hamren can also turn to a few decent performers in midfield as well, with Kim Kallstrom pulling the strings and Rasmus Elm, who has been linked with a move to the Premiership, also handy in the centre. Defensively, they will always be tough to break down and you’d imagine Sweden fancy their chances of ruffling a few feathers in Group D.

UKRAINE

Coach: Oleg Blokhin
Captain: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk
Star Man: Andriy Shevchenko
One to Watch: Andriy Yarmolenko
Fifa Ranking: 52
Previous Tournament History: Never Qualified
Odds: 50/1
If they were a film: The Expendables – Based round a dramatically ageing cast who are well best their best, they are simply not good enough. Expect a few explosive, volatile moments, but not one to go down in history.
Qualifying Roundup: As co-hosts, Ukraine did not have to qualify.
Tournament Analysis: Oleg Blokhin was reappointed last year to not only ensure Ukraine are not embarrassed on their own turf, but perhaps to repeat the heroics of reaching the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup. He has suffered a number of injuries in defence though and key players are no longer the talents they used to be. Andriy Shevchenko is a prime example of that. His fitness is a doubt, but he will hopefully lead the line in a final hurrah of what has been a brilliant career, Chelsea aside. They need him back to his AC Milan best if Ukraine are to pull off any shocks and they need midfielders Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka at their creative best behind him. The squad simply doesn’t appear strong enough on paper, but once again, don’t rule out the power of home support. Kiev is going to be hostile for any visiting team and Ukraine are hoping this could potentially fire them through the group stage.

Predictions

1. France
2. England
3. Sweden
4. Ukraine

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